Book Review: Cecily Neville

Title: Cecily Neville
Author: John Ashdown-Hill
Genre: Biography
ISBN: 978-152670632

My Rating: 4 out of 5

I received this book as an Advance Reader Copy from Pen and Sword via NetGalley.

While Cecily Neville is certainly not an obscure historical person, very little has been written to focus on her own life and the impact that it had on the course of history. This title was refreshing in that it attempted to single her out in history and focus on presenting as much we can possibly know about her. Throughout the text, Ashdown-Hill sorts through the facts as we have them and the speculative aspects of Cecily’s story. The book was extremely well researched and pieced together much of Cecily’s life and the time period that she lived in. At times, the discussion became a bit repetitive and/or read more like a research dissertation which slowed down my own reading of the text. Occasional interjections by the author regarding his own experiences or opinions felt a bit out of place in an otherwise formally presented history.   

However, one of the disadvantages presenting a book on such a focused subject with limited facts and an (understandable) unwillingness of the author to guess at truth is that a number of gaps in a story that begs to be told. Ashdown-Hill’s writing and attention to detail made this an enjoyable read for a self-proclaimed history buff. I have read quite a few other works about the War of the Roses, the Plantagenets, and the Tudors, and my hope was that this book would take a much deeper dive into this era via Cecily’s narrative. Disappointingly, and by no fault of the author, her story falls a bit short of the level of detail that someone already familiar with the tale would desire, simply because there is so much about Cecily that, as Ashdown-Hill points out, we do not know. As a result, I found myself wishing that he had filled in the holes of the narrative with more details about her children, the transfer of the crown, or the time period itself (even though the book is about Cecily and not the English civil wars as a whole). Taken as a scholarly text, rather than a biography, will help readers approach this book with appreciation.

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